by Robert Laurence Binyon
The desert sand at day's swift flight
Drank of the dew--cold vivid night
Where Nile flows as he flowed
When first men reaped and sowed
As though his stream since Time began
Bore all the history of Man,
Vast ages lapsing brief
As noiseless as a leaf.
But when the first high star, concealed
Itself by shadowing boughs, revealed
The glinting ripple, it seemed
As the great water streamed
That ears attuned might hear the strings
Plucked by the harpist for those kings
Who in persistence fond
Would be companion'd
Through the faint under--world, and still
Press the firm--clustered grape, and feel
Wind from the fanning plume
Sweetened with incense--fume;
Still watch the honey--coloured grain
Stiffen to ripeness on the plain,
Or dancers with slim flanks
Circle in chiming ranks.
For Time, so old, must abdicate:
Eyes and a smile that have no date
Respond from chiselled stone
Young as, each day, the dawn;
And pulsings of the carver's wrist
So subtly in those curves persist,
The presence in the form
To touch is almost warm.
But like the pictures dreams make glow
On darkness, that in daylight go
So soon, except they find
Some lodging in the mind,
Only by beauty can these cross
The dark stream of the dead to us.
Only the hot sun dwells
'Mid those long parallels
Of broken pillars, roofed with air,
In temples of unanswered prayer;
And Gods unfeasted own
Naught but a granite throne.
Rain and the scolding wind's uproar
And the black cloud befitted more
The towering walls that hem
City of wailing, wrath, and blood,
The city of the grave and shroud,
Whence arose the Word
That brought so sharp a sword.
O city stubbornly enthroned!
The city that the prophets stoned,
Over which Jesus wept,
And proud Rome vainly swept!
But as from heavens of brooding love
A peace unearthly beamed above
The hill--surrounded sea
Of lonely Galilee.
And we beneath those silent skies
Walked among flowers of paradise,
As if their happier seed
Knew peace on earth indeed.
Peace, by the world praised and eschewed,
Lived in that ageless solitude
And with no phrases deckt
Shone richer in neglect.
And under stony hills severe,
Where sounds are few, we still could hear
The shepherd from the rock
Pipe to his wandering flock.
Remote beyond the Syrian bay
At close of a long burning day
Into the dusk still shone
The snows of Lebanon.
Morning came dancing, Morning warmed
The blue sea--circle, whence she charmed
Isle after isle to rise
Rock--pointed toward the skies,
Whose names transfigured strand and cape
Into a legendary shape
Re--peopled from afar
But to be brought more near;
As if old ships and oar'd galleys
Still swept along the silent seas;
Sailors of Tyre in quest
Of the remoter West;
Athenians racing to undo
Their own decree, before it slew;
And Cleopatra's sail
From Actium flying pale;
And traffickers with rich Byzance
Past Patmos fading, lost in trance;
And Paul, on fire within
The sad world's soul to win;
And Rudel in love's dear duress
Turned eastward to his Far Princess,
To die for that one bliss,
The first and the last kiss;
And doomed Othello Cyprus--bound.--
The islands rose and sank around,
And when the day declined
Their shadows filled the mind.
Dim in the dawn stood Hector's ghost
Upon the mound where Troy lies lost.
But through the straits we sped
Turned to our dearer dead.
The hills divide, the seas unite
The valleys of a land of light,
But O how bare beside
That Hellas glorified
Which, wasted, clan by warring clan,
Yet made a splendour shine in Man
By that inquiring will
Whose way we follow still;
Built in the mind his palace rare,
Towered high as thought can dare
And thronged with images
Of joys and agonies,
Confronting destiny and wrong
With the high--symbol'd scene, and song
Threading its music through
The tale of wrath and rue.
But Time, so tender to a thought
That branches up from living root,
Has here unbuilt, defaced,
And Beauty dispossessed,
Conniving with men's minds inert,
Brute blows, and stupid skill to hurt,
As if 'twere half their joy
To maim and to destroy.
O Delphi, where all Hellas came
To hear the awful Voice proclaim
Fate, how beneath your steep
Is all--forgetting sleep!
No voice, no votary, no shrine;
Though the long vale be still divine
From that blue bay below
To the far mountain snow,
And soundless noon that idly warms
The scattered stones and shattered forms
Only the shadow brings
Of wheeling eagles' wings.
In the last light some column glows
Where once a white perfection rose
By the rebuilding mind,
Which treasures up a shape, a thought,
From footprint or from echo caught;
Hard gleanings, that attest
Oblivion has the best.
Fade coasts and isles, where the seed sown
Still flowers in all we are and own.
A future presses near
Clouds of unshapen fear.
And now the ghostly, vast night--fall
Like an age closing past recall
Seems, and this darkening sea
The wastes of history;
The sea that no proud trophy claims
For sunken ventures, foundered fames,
Dishevelled navies tost,
Ships like a bubble lost;
That keeps no sure abiding form
And rises in unconscious storm
Whipt by an ignorant blast,
And when the fury's past,
Sleeking its waves, mile after mile,
Into the image of a smile.
Is this what Time does still,
Working a witless will?
But through the dark, stopt by no seas,
Pass other Powers and Presences
Unseen from shore to shore,
Armed and at conscious war,
Ideas, mightier than men,
That seize and madden, free or chain.
The things unprophesied
Our prophecies deride;
But end is none, though the storms break
And the mind pale, and the heart shake.
Out of that future ring
Far trumpets challenging.
Last updated January 14, 2019